Colorado River Aqueduct
The Colorado River Aqueduct. Courtesy Metropolitan Water District

Leaders of Southern California’s water wholesaler hailed a three-state agreement announced Monday aimed at dramatically reducing the amount of water pulled from the Colorado River over the next three years.

The proposed deal among California, Nevada, Arizona and the federal government would stave off what could have been far more dramatic cuts imposed by federal regulators had the states not brokered a deal by the end of the month.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agreement would conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of water by the end of 2026, achieved through reductions in use by the three states, along with cities, water districts and farming operations, offset by what is anticipated to amount to more than $1 billion in federal grants through the Inflation Reduction Act.

An acre-foot of water is roughly the amount used by at least two households a year.

“The consensus alternative agreed to with our partners across the Lower Basin will produce exactly the short-term stability to the Colorado River system we need,” Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a statement.

“Through federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and additional non-compensated contributions by the Lower Basin states, and thanks to this year’s wet winter, the near-term risks facing lakes Mead and Powell will be avoided. We are grateful Reclamation has agreed to analyze this consensus plan, and we are hopeful it will emerge as the preferred alternative.”

The MWD is a regional water wholesaler overseeing deliveries to water agencies throughout Southern California.

“This plan calls for all Colorado River water users to share in the effort to use less water,” Hagekhalil said. “In Southern California, that means we will continue to need businesses and residents to be as efficient as possible with their water use. The recent wet winter across California and the Southwest certainly provided a much-needed lifeline, but it didn’t absolve us from the responsibility of addressing the changing climate and long-term drought that are permanently reducing the amount of water in the Colorado River. We must all do more to use less.”

MWD board member Marty Miller, chair of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Colorado River, added, “This consensus agreement on the Colorado River will lessen the risk of litigation which would only stall and inevitably hurt the river and our ability to undertake critical long-term planning.”

The San Diego County Water Authority, which imports water from both the MWD and directly from the Colorado River via Imperial County, also approved of the agreement.

“The Water Authority applauds the efforts of California, through the Colorado River Board of California, of which the Water Authority is a member, for working closely with the other Lower Basin states to develop a consensus proposal to submit to Reclamation,” said General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “The Water Authority has been a long-time advocate of collaboration on the Colorado River, and today’s announcement appears to be a positive step in that direction.”

In announcing the tri-state agreement, Gov. Gavin Newsom said everyone “must work together to address this crisis and the weather extremes between drought and flood.”

“California has stepped up to make significant cuts to water usage and now, this historic partnership between California and other Lower Basin states will help maintain critical water supply for millions of Americans as we work together to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System for decades to come,” Newsom said in a statement.

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people in multiple states along with critical agricultural irrigation. The river also provides hydroelectric power to millions of customers, generated by dams at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

But years of drought have threatened the viability of the river.

A little more than half of the 3 million acre-feet of water in the agreement represents reduced use in California, with the other two states sharing the rest.

According to The New York Times, roughly 2.3 million acre-feet would be cut from deliveries to water districts, farming operations, cities and Native American tribes that agreed to cut their use in exchange for federal grants, which will total about $1.2 billion.

City News Service contributed to this article.